Hampshire & Isle of Wight

Shirley Towers inquest: Firefighters died in tower block

Jim Shears (left) and Alan Bannon
Image caption Jim Shears (left) and Alan Bannon formed a two-man firefighting team

Two firefighters died after a "massive escalation" in a tower block blaze in Southampton with temperatures reaching hundreds of degrees, an inquest heard.

Jim Shears and Alan Bannon entered 15-storey Shirley Towers on 6 April, 2010, as one of two two-man teams.

As the fire intensified the other team fled through a fire exit and thought Mr Shears and Mr Bannon would escape through another exit, it was heard.

It was 45 minutes before colleagues could reach the men.

Coroner Keith Wiseman at Southampton Civic Centre said Mr Bannon, 38, was pronounced dead at the scene and Mr Shears, 35, died later in Southampton General Hospital where attempts to revive him were unsuccessful.

No prosecutions

The fire started in Karl Hoffman's ninth-floor flat when a curtain placed in the bowl of an up-lighting lamp caught alight, it was heard.

Mr Hoffman tried to extinguish it using a soft drink and then his polo shirt but when the fire became worse he fled with his wife, who was five months pregnant.

Mr Bannon and Mr Shears, known by the call-sign Red Two, were one of two two-man teams to arrive at the property.

The other two firefighters, Keith Holland and Liam Ryan - Red One - were soon beaten back by the increasing strength of the fire and escaped under "considerable physical distress".

Image caption People were moved out of 12 flats above and below the fire

Mr Wiseman: "There was a sudden, massive escalation in the fire itself and, in particular, the temperatures.

"This led to the first two (Red One) to be just able to leave the flat through some stairs in some pain and physical distress.

"It was initially thought that Red Two had gone back down stairs but there was nothing further the other two men could have done, due to their own levels of physical distress."

Mr Wiseman said any delay in recovering the two firefighters from the building was unlikely to have made any difference to the tragic outcome because of the intensity of the inferno.

'Our hero'

The unconscious pair were found at 21:40 BST, three-quarters of an hour after they became unaccounted for.

The inquest heard from Mr Bannon's brother-in-law, Keith Trott, who said: "Alan was not only my brother-in-law, he was my best friend and I miss him every day."

Jim Shears's brother Gary read a statement on behalf of his widow, Carla, saying: "He was not a saint and would not want to be portrayed as one, but he was our hero.'"

Father-of-two Mr Shears was from Poole in Dorset and was a firefighter for seven years.

Mr Bannon, of Southampton, was a fireman for eight-and-a-half years and lived with his wife Charlotte and their five-year-old daughter Abigail.

After separate investigations into the deaths, Hampshire Police and the Health and Safety Executive both said they would not launch prosecutions in connection with the tragedy.

The inquest is expected to last four weeks.

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